There were many concerned faces prior to the school board's Jan. 21 decision to delay the closure of Arcadia Consolidated School. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
By Tina Comeau
UPDATED 11:15 p.m. Tuesday: Arcadia Consolidated School will still close. But it won’t close at the end of this school year as the Tri-County Regional School Board had planned.
Based on a decision made at the board’s Jan. 21 meeting, there is no longer any definitive date attached to when the elementary school will close. Instead, the school will be part of the planning process to determine how many students will attend a new elementary school in Yarmouth, and where those students will come from.
It is known that students from Central and South Centennial will attend the new school, but whether students from Arcadia School will attend as well is unknown at this point.
If it is decided that all of students from Arcadia School will attend Plymouth School, then the school board will at some point in the future again announce the timeframe for closure of Arcadia School.
If it is decided that some or all of the students will attend a new elementary school, than Arcadia School won’t close until the new elementary school opens its door.
Part of the reason for the latter is to avoid a situation outlined by school board member Ron Hines, who said if Arcadia School were to close before it is decided what students would attend a new elementary school, it could mean some lower elementary grade students from Arcadia School might have to attend two more different schools before graduating from Grade 6.
“I don’t believe that’s a good educational process,” he said.
Hines still said the school board cannot afford to keep two schools, partially filled and located five minutes apart, both open – referring to Arcadia and Plymouth schools.
But he also said he feels it is a reasonable choice to keep Arcadia School open for time being until there is more certainty as to where students will attend school in the future.
“I think the board should listen to the community in this matter,” he said.
Hines is the one that brought a notice of motion to the board table, asking board members to reconsider a prior motion concerning the closure of Arcadia School.
With the majority of board members deciding to delay the closure of the school, it also means proposed school boundaries – that have been controversial since first made public in October – are on hold. The proposed boundaries were drawn up by senior board staff and were to have been voted on at the Jan. 21 meeting.
Instead, school catchments will be revisited again in the future where more concrete facts are known on where students will be attending school.
Board member Dolores Atwood supported the decision to delay the Arcadia School closure. She also said that, in her opinion, the fact that another school is located five minutes away is not a relevant argument for closing a school as there are so many more factors to consider.
One thing many in the public have criticized the school board for is making decisions without knowing, or laying out, what all of the repercussions of the decisions would be.
Atwood also touched on this, questioning if when the school board made the decision to close schools in March 2013, whether as board members they really knew what the full impact of their decisions would be.
“Did we have all the options?” she asked. “Do we, as a board, feel the same way about our decision today as we did in March?”
One board member suggested this isn't the case.
“I think I may have made a mistake, I’ll take my own responsibility for that,” said board member Andy Baxter about his decision to close Arcadia School and move students elsewhere. He said there’s more information available now that might have caused him to make a different decision last year.
He also said he assumed that former Arcadia School students going to Plymouth School would continue to attend Maple Grove and the Yarmouth high school, but the proposed boundaries were suggesting otherwise, saying those students would go to Drumlin instead. That was something he hadn't expected to see happen.
There was a recorded vote and nearly all of the board members in attendance voted in favour of delaying the closure of Arcadia School.
The one board member who didn’t support this decision was Elizabeth Acker, who said as difficult as it was she had to put funding ahead of passion. Acknowledging the decision to close Arcadia School was a difficult one for her, she said delaying the closure doesn't mean the school won’t close eventually. Rather, she said, it will continue to strain board finances. Closing the school at the end of this school year, she said, would free up much needed funding for the school board.
“That’s not what the parents want to hear, that’s not what the community wants to hear,” said Acker. “But we are charged with dealing with the funding that we are given from the government to make it fair (for all students)."
Acker stressed that the operational costs of Arcadia are equal to three teacher positions. She also said there would be more savings in areas of custodial and administration by closing the school.
“Often times our motto ‘Students first’ has been used by the public for accusing us of not putting their students first. That motto should say all students. It’s not just the students of one school, it’s the students of all schools that the Tri-County board is in charge of,” said Acker. “To continue to keep that school open next year, we talk about teachers, we talk about program support, resources for the students, I think we’re doing an injustice to all of our Tri-County students.”
Board member Joan Brewer, who voted in support of delaying the closure of Arcadia School, asked the board’s operations director if there is a cost associated with closing Arcadia School. The board’s director of operations Steven Stoddart said there will costs involved because of infrastructure work required at Plymouth, that, among other things, will involve changes to the bus loop and moving playground equipment.
“I haven’t done the cost estimate on that yet, but the costs could be considerable,” he said.
All the more reason to hold off on closing Arcadia School said Ron Hines, who questioned how the board would even know what changes are needed when it doesn’t know where displaced Arcadia School students will be attending class.
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